Improving home insulation and encouraging cycling may save NHS £3.7bn

Improving home insulation and encouraging cycling and walking could save the NHS £3.7billion a year, campaigners claim

  • Reduced energy demand in transport, buildings and industry would limit deaths
  • Report by Green Alliance group accused ministers of ‘short sighted approach’
  • They said top priority should be to reduce need to own and drive vehicles 

Improving house insulation and encouraging cycling and walking would save the NHS £3.7billion a year, campaigners claim.

Reducing energy demand in transport, buildings and industry – by insulating homes and getting people out of their cars – would reduce early deaths through pollution and pneumonia, they say.

A report by the Green Alliance group accused ministers of a ‘short sighted approach to energy’ which is damaging people’s health.

The top priority in transport should be to reduce the need to own and drive vehicles, campaigners said.

Transport is the largest sector for greenhouse gas pollution in the UK, with current policies set to deliver just six million tonnes of the 70 million tonnes a year reduction needed by 2032.

Emissions are not coming down, in part due to the increase in weight of cars with more SUVs on the road, but policies to encourage walking, cycling and more use of public transport could cut pollution and improve health.

Improving house insulation and encouraging cycling and walking would save the NHS £3.7billion a year, campaigners claim

Switching just 1.7 per cent of car journeys to walking and cycling could deliver £2.5 billion in health benefits, by reducing problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the report said.

Cleaner travel will also help prevent the estimated 65,000 early deaths a year from air pollution, the report added.


The UK’s air pollution was labelled a ‘national embarrassment’ in September.

Figures for 2017 showed 37 out of 43 air quality zones across the UK had illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution, the same number as the previous year.

Annual average levels of the pollutant from exhaust fumes fell in most places, figures from the Government and environmental law charity ClientEarth revealed.

But levels are still more than double the legal limit in Greater London and also well over the limit in areas including South Wales, West Midlands, Glasgow and Greater Manchester.

Brighton, Worthing and Littlehampton in West Sussex – an area declared as legal in the previous year – crept up to just below the threshold again, the statistics show.

The UK has been breaching EU pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from diesel vehicles, since the rules came into effect in 2010.

Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and is linked to health problems from childhood illnesses to heart disease and even dementia. 

It is a similar situation for emissions from buildings, which need to deliver cuts of 35 million tonnes per year by 2032, but under current policies will only see a reduction of five million tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Making homes more energy efficient and warmer could save the NHS £1.2billion a year, currently spent on treating problems attributed to cold living conditions such as pneumonia and heart attacks, the report said.

A £1billion a year investment up to 2035 in energy efficiency would also lower household bills by an average of £270, and prevent 10,000 early deaths a year, it added.

The study, based on research by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions – which involves academics from 15 UK universities – said the Government should implement measures to reduce demand.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said: ‘The Government’s approach to energy is self-defeating.

‘It ignores half of the equation and denies people considerable benefits.

‘Not only would reducing demand help to reach carbon reduction targets earlier, it would also reduce infrastructure costs and benefit everyone – through cleaner air, more comfortable homes and healthier lives.’ 

Responding to the report, NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘The health service is working with the world’s leading experts to set a practical, evidence-based and ambitious date for the NHS to reach net-zero, as well as looking at how the NHS can influence other sectors of society such as the energy industry.’ 

A Government spokesman said: ‘Combatting climate change is a key Government priority. 

‘We’re investing over £6 billion in household energy efficiency and £1.5 billion in electric vehicles – encouraging more people to switch to cleaner homes and transport.

‘We’ve already cut emissions by over 40 per cent since 1990 and have a legally binding target to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050.’

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